Hello everyone, I bet you didn't expect to see an update here. Well I've got a surprise for you! Below is an excerpt from my very own original novel The Lightless Paladin.
The Lightless Paladin takes place in a high fantasy world of swords and sorcery following Michael Whitaker, a young man from the village of Wesherby who has forsaken the faith he once held and denounced the Goddess Daichi after the tragic loss of his mother. His adventure will take him across the continent of Mont, where he will interact with fantasy races new and old alike.
If you're a fan of fantasy I'm certain you will find it well worth the read. Check back at the end of this chapter to find out where you can access the full book!
Not a cloud dots the skies above the village of Wesherby.
The sun shines brightly over the small farming town as its citizens go about their days. Many are out in the fields, sowing seed and tending to their crops. Others lay a watchful eye over herds of cattle and sheep, making sure the animals do not wander astray into the nearby forests.
The town itself bustles with plenty of noise as well, from the muted hammering of the carpenters to the piercing ringing of the blacksmiths. Voices add to the clamor, in conversation about a variety of things.
Even for those without a profession, the day is hardly relaxing. There are errands to run and chores to be completed, from cooking and cleaning to retrieving recently repaired items. There is neary a dull moment with so much to be done.
This business only serves to amplify the need for a good meal. As lunchtime arrives the noises quiet, a nice respite before the bustle returns for the remainder of the day. For a young man returning from the outskirts of town, it is no different.
"Aunt Marie, I'm home," Michael calls, stepping through the door to a small townhouse and out of the blistering midday sun.
From further within the dwelling a voice replies, "Michael, dear, could you come here for a moment? I need your help with something."
The young man cracks a small smile as he places his gear in a nook by the door and proceeds down the hall to the kitchen, where he finds his aunt working diligently to prepare lunch for himself and the rest of the family. He is the first to arrive back at home from the looks of it, as neither of his adoptive younger siblings are present and his uncle is likewise absent.
Standing on the third step of her kitchen stool, Marie strains for the bag of salt resting on top of the cupboard that her small fingers can't quite reach. Marie had been vertically challenged as long as Michael had known her, and even the array of stools, chairs, and other pieces of furniture her carpenter husband made weren't enough to overcome it at times.
"Let me," Michael says, reaching past the shorter woman's outstretched hand and plucking the surprisingly heavy bag from its perch.
At just a hair over six feet tall only a few places are out of his reach, and Michael has grown accustomed to helping retrieve all manner of things for his aunt and siblings. He deposits the bag on the wooden countertop as a wonderful aroma catches his attention.
A large cast iron pot hangs over the hearth, filled to the brim with stewed beef, simmering the small room in its vapors and causing Michael to salivate in anticipation. As a waitress at the town's tavern, the Grassy Knoll, Marie had picked up many of the chef's tricks over the years and her beef stew was by far the best for miles.
"Thank you, dear."
Marie runs her hand through her godchild's finger length blond hair and grins, watching him stare intently at the pot of brewing stew.
"Ah ah ah!"
She slaps away his hand as Michael reaches for the ladle.
"Not until the others arrive. It should be any minute now."
As if on cue, the door at the end of the hall opens and two figures step off the street.
The first is Augden, the younger of Michael's adoptive siblings, a boy of ten with curly brown hair that reaches past his eyes and the most cheerful disposition anyone has ever seen.
Behind him is the boy's father and Michael's uncle, Lamont. The gentleman carries a walking stick, the result of a logging accident several years ago, which he leans against for support every few steps. Sweat drips from his brow and from the corners of his moustache, but it's wiped away with a handkerchief after he seats himself at the table.
"Mother, is lunch ready yet?" Marie's excitable son asks, joining Michael in staring at the pot and running his tongue over his lower lip.
The smooth voice of the boy's father answers rather than the sweetness of his mother's.
"Take a seat at the table and be patient, Aug. Better yet, set it to make the time go faster."
Augden sighs and paces over to the cupboard to gather the set of wooden bowls and spoons for the meal.
"How is the watch?" Lamont inquires of Michael, who has retrieved a set of cups and is in the process of filling them from a bucket of drinking water.
Michael places the cups on the table one by one and shrugs.
"Uneventful… and hot. Not even a merchant has come through today on their way to Mitford from Fort Tallin."
Lamont meant to take a swig from his cup but instead drains the vessel, a result of walking back from his workshop in the aforementioned heat. He hands it back to Michael to be refilled.
"Better that than to have a full caravan passing through, don't you think?"
"I should rather have the caravan," a young woman dressed in a simple blue gown says from the doorway. "They might have new books to read or stories to tell."
Marie looks over her shoulder from where she had leaned against the hearth to salt the stew. She smiles at the sight of her little girl, though the almost sixteen-year-old would argue she was every bit a young woman given the opportunity.
"Welcome home dear, are your studies keeping you busy? It's not like you to be late."
Ashe collects the bowls of her father and elder brother from the table and brings them to Marie.
"Sageit wouldn't allow me to leave until he had finished the morning lesson, which I did but he wanted to keep going."
"Oh, and what has he taught you today?" Lamont says, polishing off his second cup of water and leaving Michael to stand and provide a third.
Ashe brushes a lock of silver hair out of her eyes before she accepts the bowls from Marie and carries them to the table.
"We are going over what I learned last month to make sure I remember it. Which I do, but he always makes me show him so many times before he believes me."
The girl's old man chuckles heartily. As a tradesman he understands all too well what it is like to work with an overly eager apprentice, namely his son.
"Repetition is the path to mastery. You are ready when Sageit says you are ready. Listen to him, our village will need someone to take his place when the time comes."
With a sigh, Ashe places the final bowl on the table. "I know father, I know."
As the student of Wesherby's only wizard, Ashe is destined to take his place as the town's expert on the affairs of magic. She has studied under him since the age of six and learned nearly every spell he has to teach, and several he did not. Soon she would journey to a nearby village to learn from their master of the arcane before returning to Wesherby to live out her life in eternal tedium.
"Can you show me a trick?" Augden asks his sister, pleading with his eyes for a show.
More than happy to oblige, the wizard snaps her fingers and mutters, "Igni." All the candles in the room ignite, and Augden claps with delight.
"My candles will melt and we'll be in the dark tonight," Marie lightly scolds her daughter who repeats the gesture. The candles extinguish along with the fire in the hearth.
Ashe gives a nervous smile and focuses on the spell instead of showing off, reigniting the hearth and only the hearth this time around.
"Shall we eat?" Marie asks. "Michael will have to relieve someone else for their lunch soon enough."
Lamont, Marie, Ashe, and Augden bow their heads in prayer. Michael follows suit but the words ring hollow.
"May the Goddess bless this food, the coming harvest, and our home. Volonté."
The meal passes quickly and with little conversation. Not only was Michael on a schedule, but having stood in the summer sun for most of the morning had left the young man terribly hungry. He thanks his aunt for the stew and bread before excusing himself.
Stopping at the door he attaches the shortsword he'd left in the corner to his belt. As a member of the Wesherby town watch, Michael was trained in swordsmanship by Captain Adams, a former soldier turned clerk at the provisions store in the square by the Grassy Knoll. Michael had even managed to best most of the other guardsmen in duels, but despite being much younger and more fit, he'd yet to beat the captain.
He has hardly made it more than a handful of paces down the street when Ashe comes rushing out of the house behind him.
"Something wrong?" he asks, raising a brow as his younger sister keels over panting.
After a moment to catch her breath Ashe holds out a small goat leather pouch.
"Oh, my water skin." A hand reaches for where it should be on his waist, only to find the space vacant. "Thanks, Ashe."
Ashe nods, having finally caught her breath.
"Walk me back to Sageit's as thanks?"
Placing a hand on his chin the young man gives a pondering stare over the bridge of his nose.
"I don't know…"
The waterskin disappears behind Ashe's back when Michael reaches for it with his free hand.
Now wearing a sly grin of her own, the silver-haired young woman backs up a step. "I guess I'll just go back inside then. Since you don't need this."
Michael's eyes narrow. He had forgotten the waterskin after filling it but now that he'd been reminded, leaving without it wasn't an option. He would be on watch until sundown at least and not having something to drink would make for a terrible shift.
"Ashe, give me my waterskin."
She takes another step back to avoid Michael's attempt at snatching the object from her grasp.
"Not until you promise to walk me back to Sageit's."
"You can walk yourself," he grunts in frustration as the dance continues with Ashe side-stepping him once again.
"I'm going to be late!"
Ashe shakes her head and giggles. "I'm afraid you already are, dear brother. So what's a few minutes more to make sure your pretty little sister gets back to her teacher without running into trouble?"
Michael makes a final effort to retrieve his stolen article and manages to almost get his fingers on it when suddenly a wave of exhaustion passes over him. He drops to his knees and droops his head, allowing something to slip over his hair and fall onto the dusty road.
Having won thanks to her use of magic, a temporary enfeeblement enchantment Sageit had taught her for assisting in calming distressed livestock or escaping from would-be assailants, Ashe looks pleased with herself until she sees the object lying in the dirt.
The small necklace consists of a golden chain connected to a circle with a cross on its lower side, a half ellipse on the upper side, and a morning glory set in its center. The flower's petals are painted red but the internal seams are made of the same gold as the rest of the jewelry. It is quite an intricate design and not something any of the craftsmen in Wesherby would be capable of making.
Before she can reach for the jewelry, Michael snatches it in his fist and holds it directly over his heart.
"Michael, I'm sorry."
Over the next few moments his breathing settles and the redness that had flushed his cheeks recedes.
"I really am sorry," Ashe repeats, offering the waterskin to him.
Opening his eyes, Michael loosens his hand enough for the chain to extend to its full length. He slips it over his head and tucks the rosary beneath his shirt for safe keeping.
"I'll walk you to Sageit's," he says quietly.
Ashe waits for Michael to return to his feet before handing him the waterskin and the pair set off in silence.
Wesherby was a small village by most standards, with only a few hundred citizens of primarily human descent residing within the oaken walls or the surrounding farmlands. Compared to a town like Nfarion where the regional lord governed from or the capital in Rhar, Wesherby was quite insignificant.
Walking through the village and toward the square Michael and Ashe pass the only blacksmith, run by a dwarf named Fergus, as well as the general store.
"Looking mighty fine today, Missy Malachite!"
Ashe laughs and waves to Captain Adams, a large man with a salt and pepper beard who has stepped out of the shop to greet them.
"You'd best be careful, walking around with trouble like that might catch up to you one day," the man chuckles, leaning against the doorframe while holding his vest in both hands.
Stopping momentarily, Ashe gives a curtesy. "I thank you for the advice, kind sir. I shall keep a better watch of my company in the future."
"You too, Whitaker," he yells as they pair leaves earshot. "That girl is too much for any one man to handle."
A cheeky grin appears on Michael's face as his right lip curls upward. "Don't I know it, captain!"
Beside him Ashe makes her annoyance known, snorting and folding her arms over her chest. This only draws a hearty laugh from her elder brother as he continues leading her toward her master's home.
Next they walk through the commons along the way. Several farmers have brought their crop to sell from the stalls left open for anyone to use.
"Hey, Michael," one of them calls. "You're on duty today, aintcha?"
Suddenly a small red object is tossed in his direction. Michael catches the apple and passes it from one hand to the other in time to grab the second before it can hit Ashe.
"Take one to my boy and keep the other for yourself."
"Will do, Mr. Calahan," Michael replies, tucking the fruit into a small pouch on his waist.
On the far side of the commons is the building considered by many to be the most important in all of Wesherby. It is also the largest, being over thirty feet to the point of its steeple, built as a collective effort of all the tradesmen within twenty miles of the village back when it was established. It is none other than their very own church.
A crest bearing a gilded circle on top of a cross, with a red morning glory placed in the center, is hung above the carved birch doors. Ashe can't help but marvel at the immaculately painted white planks that make up the building and the brass bell hanging from its steeple.
Michael, on the other hand, ignores the structure entirely and quickly continues down the path toward Wesherby's north gate.
"Sageit's house is that way," Ashe corrects him when he walks past the road leading toward the wizard's domicile.
Not stopping to spare more than a glance over his shoulder, Michael says, "You can make it from here."
Sticking out her tongue and leaning slightly forward, the young girl makes her disappointment in his decision clear but she doesn't protest.
Expecting to hear a complaint of some kind the watchman is surprised to hear nothing but silence from his companion. He then notices the bulge in Ashe's eyes and how the color has drained from her cheeks compared to several moments ago.
"Ashe, is something wrong?"
Raising a finger she points over his shoulder. Michael follows her gaze and easily locates the cause for alarm. A column of thick black smoke billows into the afternoon sky to the north.
"Fire," Michael whispers.
Fire is always dangerous, but in a village composed of mostly wooden buildings like Wesherby it was of particular concern. Should the blaze be allowed to spread then the entire settlement could be reduced to cinders in a matter of hours.
Without hesitating the young man takes off in a dead sprint toward the source of the smoke, the north gate he had been returning to. Ashe takes the hem of her dress and pulls it up, then follows after him.
"You should go get Sageit," Michael yells over his shoulder, blond hair whipping in the wind.
Ashe, still several feet behind but gaining despite her shorter stature, shakes her head.
"Someone else will! I need to help here."
While running toward the source of the flame on the outskirts of the village, its residents pass the youths and rush toward the commons. Women leading children by the hand, husbands carrying wives or mothers. Everyone not trained to assist in quelling the fire would relocate to the square and meet at the church for further instruction.
One man running by happens to be shouting something to the others, but it is inaudible over the chiming of the bell coming from behind. Only when the man passes within several feet of Michael does he finally catch the words being yelled at him.
Gnolls. Michael had never seen one of the hyenamen for himself, but by all accounts they were bad news. In the past they had controlled most of the northwestern corner of the kingdom until the citizens of the region pleaded with their king for aid in quelling the constant raids.
The Yipping Hills Conflict had been short-lived. Even with their great numbers, gnolls were no match for the well-trained human army and were quickly driven back to their fortress of Gnollmar. Initially the fortress had belonged to a clan of stone giants, but their rivalry with the dwarves in the mountains to the west had turned heated, ultimately resulting in their withdrawal from the area. It hadn't taken long for the opportunistic scoundrels to occupy afterwards.
The aggressive beastmen hadn't been a problem since the final days of the conflict. Occasionally one would be spotted in the woods but they always retreated with their tails between their legs, the lesson of their past mistakes evidently being passed down through the generations. No gnoll had dared venture close to a human settlement, until today.
Hesitation momentarily causes Michael to lose his stride. The fire had either been started by the gnolls to incite panic or it had begun as a result of an accident during the frenzied retreat of Wesherby's citizens from the encroaching creatures. Either way, fighting the fire and combating the threat to the village posed by the gnolls wouldn't be possible at the same time.
Clearly the gnolls pose the greatest threat, he decides, turning a corner with Ashe still hot on his heels. It would be possible to escape from the blaze and rebuild even if a portion of Wesherby were to burn, but anyone killed would be a life lost forever.
Coming around a home, the source of the rolling cloud of soot finally is within sight. Flame has leapt from the outer wall to several of the nearby cottages and their thatch roofs. No one is attempting to contain the blaze, instead running about in a panic as if to flee. From what exactly they're running from is soon answered.
Standing in the middle of the road is one of the ugliest creatures Michael or Ashe has ever seen. The bipedal hyena is covered in a thin gray coat of fur but wears a leather jerkin over its chest for protection. It appears to have been unable to find pants to complete the outfit, leaving its muscular legs unobstructed. However, the battleaxe it carries is of far greater importance.
From within its maw of sharp teeth the gnoll rears back and yipps with delight. The beast stands to its full height of over seven feet, tall enough to look down on Michael or tower over Ashe, and sniffs the air. With the soot clogging the area there should be no way that it should be able to zero in on the scent of anything in particular, and yet somehow the gnoll picks up something.
A high pitched laugh, or perhaps it is better described as a cackle, fills the air as the gnoll turns on its heel to face the newcomers. Raising the battleaxe above its head the beast lets out another cry and charges.
Having a creature that is over a foot taller than he is, and which he knows means to kill him, barrel towards him is unlike anything Michael has experienced before. As a guard he's only ever engaged in drills or mock duels and never anything where he could have been seriously hurt. Rendering his opponent unable to continue by knocking away their weapon or forcing them out of the ring was what he needed to win. Those rules don't apply here however.
Michael draws his sword from its sheath just in time to parry the gnoll's first strike. The axe narrowly misses his shoulder and rebounds off the earth. The guardsmen is afforded no time to think and relies purely on instinct as the beastman continues to swing wildly, bringing the axe back across its chest to slice at his midsection.
Hopping back to avoid having his bowels removed, Michael lands on the balls of his feet and prepares to return a blow of his own. Driving forward off his right leg he plunges the point of the blade into the gnoll's leather jerkin just as the beast had begun to execute an overhead strike.
The tattered piece of armor is no match for the young man's well-kept blade and it pierces through the tanned leather. A small trickle of blood begins to flow from the puncture, matting the fur surrounding the fresh wound.
While Michael has been successful in striking his opponent, the creature is unfortunately still alive. Furthermore gravity continues to act upon the axe, as it had already begun to swing. He jerks away, and had he not the axe head would have been buried right below his neck. Instead the blade passes cleanly over his shoulder, the haft slamming directly into him.
Forced to a knee by the weight of the axe and the hideous creature wielding it, Michael struggles and ultimately fails to maintain a grip on his sword. At the same time the wind has been knocked out of him and he finds himself gasping for air.
The gnoll hardly fairs better. When Michael lost grip of his sword it remained in the beastman's midsection, and without its wielder to hold it aloft the pommel had struck the ground and forced the blade deeper inside. What had been only a minor wound has now become serious with over six inches of the weapon lodged in its torso.
Barking in pain the bipedal hyena staggers back and paws at the source of its suffering. The shredded jerkin comes apart before the claws of the brute, rendering what little protection it had offered useless.
Having finally caught his breath Michael realizes that he is without his weapon, and that his sword is still implanted in the gnoll who is only making matters worse for itself. Fortunately, the axe it had carried lays nearby.
Propelling himself into a roll he scoops up the tool of war and clambers back to his feet.
At this point the gnoll has managed to pull the sword from its midsection. A large patch of red is smeared across most of its coat but it is hard to tell just how much is actively seeping from the wound versus what had been splattered in the beast's frenzy to rid itself of the sharp object.
Baring its fangs and letting out a low growl, the gnoll drops to all fours before lunging at the guardsmen.
Swinging the battleaxe with both hands in an uppercut, Michael drives the crescent several inches into the gnoll's chest before it can snap his neck with its powerful jaws. The corpse follows through with its former inhabitant's last action, landing on top of the young man and pinning him to the ground.
Despite the adrenaline surging through his veins Michael's strength leaves him as the immediate danger subsides. His mind is still reeling from the fight and the young man finds it hard to breathe not only from the weight of the dead gnoll but from his rampaging nerves as well.
The creature pinning him to the ground is dead by his hand, the first kill of another sentient being in his entire life. Nothing could have prepared him for this moment. Michael feels no sorrow or regret for the monster but he is shaken to his core just the same.
A warm liquid drips onto Michael, its presence snapping him from his trance before he struggles to move the remains of his first kill and free himself. While there isn't another gnoll in his immediate vicinity there are certainly more in the area, and Ashe is currently nowhere to be found.
Suddenly, the gnoll becomes lighter and Michael finds himself being pulled to his feet.
From behind, the voice of Captain Adams reassures him.
"Easy now boy, that's not your blood."
"A-Ashe," Michael blurts out, showing no concern for his present condition with his adoptive sister unaccounted for.
Steel brushes against steel as Captain Adams draws his sword, then tosses Michael his own from nearby.
"Missy Malachite is here? I'm sure she's fine, smart girl she is. But we have to find her and the others. Come."
Michael falls in step behind the commander of the watch and they pass several other members who are directing those that had fallen behind or are engaged with gnolls themselves.
Captain Adams breaks off to assist the other guardsmen, but for Michael the top priority is finding his sister. It doesn't take long.
Near the gate Michael sees a trio of magical sigils hovering six feet off the ground. Their source is a young woman with silver hair that has been caked in soot. Her dress is likewise ruined, having been singed up to the thigh on her right side.
"I said, go away!" Ashe shouts at a gnoll rushing toward her and the small child cowering behind.
Three purple darts shoot from the sigils and pierce the hide of the gnoll. Two enter the upper torso and the third through the left eye. All three leave clean exit wounds and the beastman collapses in a heap.
From an alley between Michael and Ashe another gnoll steps into view. This one is a skirmisher, carrying a shortbow that already has an arrow nocked. It takes aim at the distracted wizard and lets the shot fly.
Ashe places herself in front of the little girl while extending her arm in the direction of Michael's voice. A teal barrier manifests and snaps the arrow at the shaft when the two collide.
At the same time Michael, having closed on the assailant, cleaves a deep gash across the gnoll's exposed back. This gnoll is noticeably smaller than the first he had encountered and is seemingly defeated by the blow alone.
With the felling of the skirmisher the immediate threat to Wesherby appears to have been contained. There are no further signs of the beastmen within the walls but a small number can be seen retreating toward the forest to the village's north.
All around him the air is choked with soot and ash from the burning buildings. Worse yet is a smell faintly familiar yet gruesomely disturbing. Bodies of several villagers lay slain in the doors of their homes and the source of the terrible stench becomes clear, cooked flesh.
"Ashe, are you alright?!" Michael shouts, ignoring the disarray around him. He rushes over and pulls his younger sister into an embrace.
It is returned by the young woman but she steps aside just as quickly.
"We're fine. But they took some of the others with them!"
"Missy Malachite, thank the Goddess you're safe."
Captain Adams and the other members of the guard arrive on scene just as the action has begun to die down.
"Captain, they took the villagers! I saw them dragging them through the gate and toward the forest."
A grim look crosses the man's face. He puckers his lips and takes a moment before responding.
"The gnolls won't do anything with them until they reach wherever it is they're hiding out. We'll find them, lass. But first we have to get this fire under control, Wesherby is lost if we don't."
"Sir!" Michael begins to protest.
The seasoned veteran places a hand on the young man's shoulder.
"We can't let the village burn to save a few residents. If Wesherby is destroyed then we all die. We'll go after those they took as soon as we can. Now, get a shovel and start throwing dirt on those roofs, we have to stop the fire from spreading!"
Michael sets off in search of a shovel to assist in fighting the raging fire consuming his home, leaving Captain Adams to stare off into the distance where the gnolls had taken their captives.
"May the Goddess have mercy on my soul."
Exciting stuff, right? If you're just dying for more of Michael and Ashe or I've managed to pique your interest you can read the full first chapter on FictionPress (linked below, replace () with a period/dot), Wattpad, RoyalRoad, or A03!
Thanks for tuning in and I hope to see you among the readership soon!